People & Skills  

Lean practices bring UK Manufacturing home

Consecutive years out of the industry doldrums has given Britain hope for optimism in the manufacturing sector, but a change in people & skills focus is needed in order to capitalise
 UK manufacturing plants may soon be a hub of activity

By Colin Monk, MD of Michael Page Manufacturing and Engineering

We’ve been picking up positive vibes from our manufacturing clients for a while, and this has been confirmed by the latest Markit/CIPS purchasing managers' index  which indicated that output and new orders in the sector have risen at their fastest rate for 19 years. 

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Despite the recession, many organisations have not only been surviving but thriving thanks to their adoption of lean practices. If ever there was a time to build a strong foundation for success, this is it, as all indicators suggest that UK manufacturing is coming home.

Once tempted by cheaper unit costs in Asian markets, UK firms are now recognising that the total cost of ownership is often less expensive in the UK. As a burgeoning economy, costs in China have risen too making the Far East a far less attractive option for UK manufacturers.

2011 and 2012 were good years to be British, encouraging a swell of public support for UK industries and the trend to ‘buy British’. This upturn could mark the start of a new chapter for UK manufacturing but only if organisations can retain and attract the talent they need.

Bringing Brits back

In 2011, manufacturing started to return from Eastern Europe and other key destinations like China and Italy. Even the textile industry, which largely left the UK in the 90s, is coming home. Low-cost fashion means the industry is moving faster than ever and businesses simply can’t wait to receive items from the other side of the world.

However, where manufacturing was exported overseas, more often than not, talent went with it. The sector has suffered a massive talent exodus due to the UK’s lack of investment in home manufacturing and in its workforce. The sector has made good progress in terms of entry-level apprenticeships but more needs to be done to attract experienced professionals back into the UK.

The rise of the white collar worker

Unfortunately, for many, manufacturing still brings up images of heavy engineering, and endless conveyor belts running around deteriorating plants.

It’s an outdated view that doesn’t capture the new breed of UK manufacturing companies or the skills that are required. Manufacturing is not just about making, it’s about innovation too and the industry is home to some of the most cutting edge technology and practices in the world.

The industry must continue to capitalise on getting this message across and continue to encourage more young people in education to consider a career in manufacturing.

Future workforce

Where manufacturers already battle with skills shortages, organisations need to take advantage of transferrable skills. For instance, people working in clean tech have relevant skills for automotive and vice versa; both need high precision engineering expertise and should make use of skilled workers regardless of which sector they are in.

British manufacturing is now back and will act as a key component in underpinning a prosperous UK economy, but we need more people in the industry to drive it.

The only way to meet the skills shortage is through a blend of upskilling the existing workforce and taking on new staff with new skills. If we can get this right, there’s every chance that UK manufacturing can come home for good.


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